Friday, November 16, 2007

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

A note on Prime Minister Fukuda’s redeye shuttle to the U.S.

On the surface, it looks like a return to the good old days, where the first item on the new Prime Minister’s diplomatic agenda would be the tributary visit to the President of the United States. Shinzo Abe famously bucked tradition (with President Bush’s blessing, no doubt) with his junket through Beijing and Seoul for what turned out to be the apogee of his short, elliptical reign, but Mr. Fukuda has managed to choose the most awkward of political times domestically, in the midst of a raging Defense Ministry scandal that has caused serious (though by no means fatal) damage to efforts to extent MIO refueling operations, to revive the time-honored tradition. And to what specific end beyond the customary assurance?

For one, the ruling coalition has used the visit as a not insignificant prop in flipping the refueling bill to the Upper House. A saving of a few days, only to be lost as the Diet dawdles in his absence? Perhaps. Still, it helped to remind the Japanese public that the issue continues to be an important item in the political quid pro quo of the asymmetrical military alliance. It would also reinforce the resolve of any members of the ruling coalition flinching at the blowback from the MOD scandal. (At a minimum, Mssrs. Moriya and Miyazaki will be found guilty, Yamada Yoko and Nihon Mirise will both lose the business, and, hopefully, the procurement system will be reformed, with potential problems for U.S. firms under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.)

But what happens when the night meets the morning sun, when President Bush must consider the de-listing of North Korea from the roster of state supporters of terrorism? De-listing without meaningful progress on the abductees would be a huge political embarrassment for Mr. Fukuda. But the Bush administration cannot keep playing a good-cop, bad-cop routine with the Japan forever. And a modus vivendi between the Bush administration and Kim Jong Il including the de facto recognition of the not-quite-ready-for-primetime germs of a nuclear arsenal in suspended animation for North Korea (a regime underwritten - it is becoming increasingly obvious - financially and economically by South Korea and China) looks at least as likely to me as when I first began thinking about outcomes that would have North Korea keeping the fruits of its nuclear weapons program, though not the program itself. And de-listing without full normalization should be an integral part of such an understanding.

This will be papered over during the meeting, but will come back to haunt as North Korea inches forward with a view to maximizing returns on minimal efforts. The never-ending delay of Japanese action on the necessities of U.S. troops realignment will also be given perfunctory attention, and will not matter much in the next year or so. Economic issues will hardly figure at all, with U.S. beef, perhaps, a visible but minor sideshow.

ADD: “[T] he good old days, where the first item on the new Prime Minister’s diplomatic agenda would be the tributary visit to the President of the United States.”

Really? Maybe I’ve embarrassed myself here. But it sure seemed that way, so I wrote it without the usual fact checking.

I’m not quite sure why this original version of Carole King’s early work haunts me so. What is it about the artless, awkward, faintly off-key Shirelles, lumpy look and all, that draws me in? I know that it began fairly late in my life, and it gets worse as the years go by. Perhaps it reminds me of my own artless, awkward, faintly off-key adolescence, and how far I have come, or gone. Was I alone, though, as much as I had believed then? Who was I unknowingly united with in our bumbling solitudes? Do I know you now?

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